With a body of work that spans the 2D and 3D realms of digital art, Dutchtide merges the laid-back lifestyle of his native Netherlands, with the vaporwave and neon vibes, of Japan
Words: John Bezold
Since arriving on the NFT scene in 2017, the Netherlands-based artist Dutchtide has taken the world by storm with his art that blends the underlying organizational frameworks present in Japanese art, with the fundamental principles of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. With a strong emotional vibe that combines the themes of isolation and loneliness with elements of urbanity present across Japanese and European cities; he is an artist whose emotions dictate the aesthetics and trajectory of his work. For him, if it’s not emotional, it need not exist. We recently sat down to discuss how he became interested in NFTs; why he made the switch to solely producing work for the NFT art market; and the relationship between the viewers of his artworks, and the types of emotions he hopes to elicit in the minds of those same viewers, whether consciously or not. As an artist at the forefront of his field, a tightly knit community has formed around his work; a sort of fan club of admirers, who have no reservations about espousing their enthusiasm and affection for each newly acquired piece, across social media.
There are many reasons why someone would ever wish to buy an NFT; increasingly so with the maturation of the market, secondary sales, and their general rise in popularity since 2020. It’s rare when a digital art project has garnered a dedicated group of admirers, and even more so when that project has no larger investors backing the production of its art. This is the niche corner of the digital art market that Dutchtide currently finds himself inhabiting, in a way that positions him, and his work, as a benchmark of authenticity among digital artists. ‘Everyone has their own reason for being in this space. Certainly, if someone’s not an artist,’ he explains. ‘If someone is a good artist, they can easily make a project in the NFT space right now. But it's not truly artful if everyone else is doing it, and certainly not if it's only centered around the value of money. Which of course, is a reality in the space, too. I really am one of these people that believes in true democracy, in crypto, in NFTs, and the idea of decentralization.’
Many people find their way to Dutchtide’s work based on its slick aesthetics; the layering of the fore, middle, and background spaces within his compositions; and the general feel-good vibes and the connotations that it, can–well–bring out in the viewers of his work. There’s a certain element of relaxation, combined with a laid-back attitude that invites mental space for reflection and contemplation. Though, when trying to dig deeper into what the word ‘vibes’ means to him and his work, I very quickly learn that these surface-level aesthetics are not random and instead, are constructed using the same organizational framework of Japanese art. Dutchtide’s artwork is often horizontal in format; some of it is 3D spaces; others are 2D scenes. He is perhaps most widely known for his 2D artworks–again horizontal–that feature a singular building, such as a gas station or a small storefront, set against a distant horizon line. Japanese motifs such as neon, the written Japanese language, or even elements reminiscent of anime are foregrounded with an empty road or train track. This is his Midnight Breeze series, which consists of 7.000 unique works–often displayed by owners as a social media banner. Though, before we spoke about his current work being created in his signature aesthetic, I ask Dutchtide about his interest in Japan: where it came from and why it’s prominent in his work.
𝕄𝕚𝕕𝕟𝕚𝕘𝕙𝕥夏季𝔹𝕣𝕖𝕖𝕫𝕖 #726, from the series 'Midnight Breeze'.
𝕄𝕚𝕕𝕟𝕚𝕘𝕙𝕥夏季𝔹𝕣𝕖𝕖𝕫𝕖 #1743, from the series 'Midnight Breeze'.
𝕄𝕚𝕕𝕟𝕚𝕘𝕙𝕥夏季𝔹𝕣𝕖𝕖𝕫𝕖 #881, from the series 'Midnight Breeze'.
‘I had very little interest in Japan until I went there on a trip,’ he succinctly states. ‘Moreso, I was interested in New Zealand; anywhere but Japan. I had no expectations the first time that I went there. I didn't research anything to do while I was there–so I was completely open to the experience of being in this new place that was so… unfamiliar. As the weeks drew closer to the trip; I started looking into the country and its culture. I only knew its stereotypes from TV and movies. When I arrived, it was an extreme culture shock. It was my first experience in a non-western country. I've been around Europe and the Caribbean and the USA; but these are still western. I came to Japan with it being the first real place in the East I've been to. It has a large western influence; a real East-West mix, and that's where a lot of my fascination with Japan comes from. There are things I recognize. But juxtaposed against this background of a world I completely did not and still do not, fully understand. When you're in a country with an alphabet you can't read; your brain constantly tries to make sense of what you're seeing. In the Netherlands, I always instinctively know what everything says. There, it’s disorienting.’
It's this sense of familiarity and distance–of mind and body–from its immediate surrounding that interests Dutchtide the most, in relation to his art. And that’s part of the reason why it’s found such a following in the NFT, digital, and wider–let’s say–more traditional art market. ‘I soon realized, during my first trip to Japan, that I was in an entirely new world,’ he adds.
‘What had happened to me, during my first visit to Japan, was that there was, because of this unfamiliarity of it all; a sort of silence in my mind, that emerged during that trip. My mind suddenly became quiet, as it was trying to decipher the world around me to understand it. But at some point, it realized that it can’t make sense of the world, so it stopped trying. It’s silent. I try to achieve this same feeling, or vibe, in my work. So when I speak about Japan and say that the mind tries to understand its surroundings; if it can't, in my experience, it reflects the experience back to you–to yourself–in a very meditative way. It's sort of silent for a second. When people look at my work, to understand it, it’s reflected back to them because it's very unfamiliar, while also familiar. This is where viewers of my work tend to begin to project themselves, literally, into it. This is intentional on my part. This is where people who enjoy my work, get the vibes from it. It's that they're pulled into the work, reflecting back to them, a viewing experience of this strange and familiar place, which elicits emotions in the viewer.’
‘Thankfully I have a really cool community that supports me and I've been really privileged in that sense.’
Vibes–as it is used in the world of NFTs–is a term that emerged out of the CryptoToadz NFT community, especially within their Discord channel. It’s obviously in wider use now, in both the world of NFTs, and at large, within the popular societal culture of 2022. With his work so celebrated for its ‘vibes’; I found it important to ask about the term and its meaning. ‘I made my first work of art with vaporwave music in the background’ he explains. ‘And vaporwave evokes a certain type of vibration in music. It's immersive.’ For those unfamiliar: vaporwave is a subgenre of electronic music that originated on the internet during the early-2010s, which sort of combines elements of 1980s music with 1990s gaming soundtracks to create a sort of manufactured nostalgia that manifests in the ear, as a staccatoed, more ‘digital’ chillwave.
Is he trying to create an aesthetic centered around vaporwave music, I ask? ‘Music influences my work and the feelings I try to imbue it with. My very first work showed a pink gas station. I designed it as a perspective exercise, practicing color, light, and composition. I realized at that point, that the compositions I created could have many variations of tone and feeling. It could be dangerous or erotic; late-night; or early morning; neon, or night; anime or human-oriented. There were so many possibilities. Vibes in my artworks shift, based on a viewer’s mood or feelings; but only if a viewer reflects my work back to their own life. Very often in my work, there’s an element–as a gas station–people want to know more about; see behind. But can’t–so the eye is forced to travel around the scene, but there's nothing there–because this is not a 3D space; it's a 2D image. It's just two gas pumps and two poles. The viewers then see the negative space, then the emotions kick in when viewing the work; a reflection.’
'New Palm Residence Vinyl Cover' by Dutchtide together with Nathan Head.
It's this sense of space, horizontality, composition, and layering that I’m drawn to learning more about during our conversation. I sense this is the critical organizing ideal underpinning his work–though one not readily apparent to the casual viewer, or someone who purchases any of his work with the aim of relaxing in some of these same, ‘feel-good vibes’ he creates. As we continue talking, I get the sense that the name Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)–the Japanese artist mainly active as a painter and printmaker–has an outsized influence on him. And my suspicions are confirmed as we continue talking about the horizontality in his work. ‘When I create art, generally all the elements that occur in an image, tend to also happen on one plane. There's a fore-, middle-, and background–and each of these has its own anchoring element. For a long time, I tried to only have action taking place in the middle ground. And the foreground would just be left empty, and the background: it would just be left as the sky.
When referencing horizontality in my work, my more 2D work; I apply this way of thinking to the gas station and high-rises equally. All my series use this principle of composition.' Therefore, if the middle ground of Japanese artworks–such as the many prints and paintings of Hokusai, and many other fellow Japanese artists active during his lifetime–are, very often, left being empty (and indeed Dutchtide references elements of Japanese architecture and pop culture; from anime, cyberpunk, a bit of 1980s, lots and lots of neon) I begin to wonder if his work, as it relates to Japan, is equally about using this underlying intellectual framework, of composition, if not more, than aesthetics? A ‘horizontality’ works with that framework of the fore-, middle-, and background, to lend his work its Japaneseness. Which he then merges, with Dutch fundamentals. At this point, I ask myself: what are these 'Dutch fundamentals’?
Katsushika Hokusai, Poem by Tenchi Tenno, c. 1885/6, color woodblock, 26.8 x 37.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, c. 1830/32, color woodblock, 25.7 x 37.9 cm., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
‘The Dutch in the seventeenth century,’ he muses, ‘in art, really went hard on things such as light, symmetry, and composition. That's why Rembrandt is so famous; the dramatic light and the beautiful composition of his sitters… I mean, his work could not be more 'correct'. Dutch art I like quite a lot because it makes sense to me. I understand it. I like Japanese art. However, most if not all of the time, it does not make sense to me. So I mix these principles in my work: composition, light, perspective–all these things come together. They’re what I currently call fundamentals. The Dutch didn't come up with it, but they mastered it during the 1600s and the 1800s, and these periods still ripple through Dutch art, up to the current day.’
During our talk, I become curious about the meaning and importance of working in a series. It seems from the outside that he has an invisible strategy behind the releases of his artwork. Season one, series one; was the gas station he mentioned when explaining how viewers of his works, want to step inside them–to walk around the structures and buildings that are central in his earlier series. Series two were high rises and ‘Dutch Estates’. Series three was that of ‘7/11 at Sea’, from 2020; it literally showed various storefronts, all of 7/11s, set against various fore- and backgrounds. But how did each progress? And what's the importance of series–in his opinion–to his work?
𝟟/𝟙𝟙 𝕒𝕥 𝕟𝕚𝕘𝕙𝕥, Dutchtide's collaboration with Harrison First.
‘My work in series is based on seasons, like fashion. It’s borrowed from runway shows and their presentation in summer, spring, cruise, resort, etc. I’ve wanted to release three to four seasons per year, relating to everything I've already mentioned about my work. But that's actually rather hard to do, based only on the subjects I'm interested in. I no longer work on these first three seasons anymore. They're expressions of the moments I was experiencing in my own life when I made them. It takes a lot out of me. I'm an artist whose work is related to their emotions; they're visible as footsteps, or tracks, in my work. Evidence of my creating it. My first Tide Estate series (which is composed of vertical images of buildings, placed in the middle ground, and a few 3D spaces), was a futurist series: they are apartments that are small and minted as ERC-1155. It was inspired by my season two, which focused on high-rises. Midnight Breeze, came way after all this. Back in this time, only gifs could be uploaded on Ethereum, and I did five different versions of the same apartment for one of these series. I think I sold four of five immediately, and the last one lingered forever. It gave me a bit of a pause, and I thought that it was the end of my art; meaning all of it would sell except for just one or two. With a batch or series, you can really promote and advertise your work in a way that I feel has more depth and meaning. For instance with series three, ‘7/11 at Sea’; three different musicians did collaborations with me; each made music for one–like Harrison First. I love collaborations. I love working with musicians because they allow for a fusing of ideas, aesthetics, and mind.’
‘It's very rare that art gives me a feeling. I personally don't relate to Rembrandt or Van Gogh, for instance. I can appreciate the beauty of these works, but for me, no emotions swirl inside of me when I look at them.’
This brings me to 2D versus 3D work and how it affects his process. How do these different formats affect the ‘canvas’ that he uses to create in, and what’s their defining feature? ‘I use the 2D format to layer; compared to 3D, where everything is straight and perfect all the time, but indeed, it has utility for the metaverse.’ He continues, ‘2D work is more an expression of my feelings, or emotions, or I’m trying to elicit emotions; my 3D work is all about honoring architecture and interior design. The cool thing about the metaverses is that we're not limited by construction or weight or materials. There's no contained to physical boundaries. Working in NFTs is inherently a different medium than painting a picture, or drawing, as on paper: it's inherently tied to finance, with NFT art. We found a different use for smart contracts with NFTs, which is really great. But the inherent use of these smart contracts is to make finance easier, or to do specific things with finance–like banking, or loans, or saving, or improving those systems. Instead, we're using NFTs for monkey pictures, anime pictures, and penguin pictures. When I joined the NFT space I realized that one of the most important drivers of value is scarcity. It's why bitcoin is relevant right now; because it's quote-unquote, scarce.’
Visitors to the Ryōan-ji zen garden in Kyoto, Japan, dating from the fifteenth century.
‘In the Zen Art Garden, the vibe that I’ve tried to elicit inside is a sort of cool-classiness. It’s a mix of 1960s Brutalist architecture–so, lots of concrete–with elements that are similar to Japanese building materials, mainly. They use a lot of titles in Japan for their buildings, on their exterior; they're everywhere. When I was designing the Zen Art Garden, Brutalism and Japanese aesthetics juxtaposed with natural elements–like a koi pond or a tree–created a nice contrast of harsh, strong and solid, with soft. Things that you would see in a Japanese garden. The point of an actual Japanese zen garden is that it allows the people in it, to better connect with themselves. With these gardens, rocks and gravel are always precise and set arrangements; so inherently there is a spiritual practice tied to it. In Japan, it's a specific branch–Shintoism–of Buddhism. And it's very connected to the self and the sense of nature. So when I made the zen garden–one of my newest 3D works–the most important thing is that you, the viewer of the work; that you're able to experience its space in many ways: as an art gallery, zen garden, and as a place to hang out with friends. So if there's an artwork in the space, I want you to be able to focus on that; you can put your own art inside the zen garden as well, your NFTs. I tried to make it a gallery unlike a gallery–for instance–in a museum. It's definitely a vibe.’
‘The world is not always about money, in my opinion. If it's your main driver in life, you might not have your priorities completely straight. There's more to life than money; you still have to work, even if you have a lot of money.’
With all the mixing of cultures and periods in his work; I wonder: when does Dutchtide consider the future to have been seen as positive–when compared to the past? ‘At the moment I'm very grim. And I don't think I'm alone in this at the moment. As a kid, everything seemed possible, and then 9/11 happened–I was a kid of course. But after that, and the financial crisis of 2007-2009; yet another setback. Now that I'm an adult, there’s the climate crisis and the housing crisis in many parts of the world. And now, of course, there's a war on the European continent. Don't forget, there was also a pandemic. Creating art, thankfully, has also allowed me to obtain a level of security, which I'm really grateful for. I never anticipated that. Artists are determining the direction of NFT space, and that I like a lot. The way I lead my company is very different from the way that other people work. Not buying meat or driving a car is not going to change the world. Instead, the food just gets thrown away, and the gas will still be used. But with web3, you vote with your wallet; that wallet is visible to the world. And your voice on Twitter and Discord can be heard by a large group of people. Some people will say money is the right way to view everything; but the world is not always about money, in my opinion. If it's your main life driver, you might not have your priorities completely straight. There's more to life than money–and you still have to work, even if you have a lot of money.’
As we conclude our conversation, I come back to where we started: about how he entered the NFT space. Though instead of asking about that time in his life, I ask him to reflect on how he perceives that time in his life, today. What’s changed in the world of crypto and NFTs, since early-2021? And perhaps equally as important; I ask what it is he’s working on today? ‘When I first entered the NFT art space, there were many whales–rich investors–all having a good time, supporting artists and visual innovation. The NFT space now is about speculation, hype, and making money. So much that collectors don't really get to earn profit. When I first started creating and selling my work as NFTs, I still had to explain what NFTs were to all my friends. Now, everyone knows what an NFT is. Buying one today is about conviction; but in a way, it’s less about circumventing the system or the traditional art world. In some ways, the field is more open, and in other ways, it's become more closed. This is a result of maturation.’
月へ戻って, Still from Dutchtide's series Tide Estates.
‘I'm currently working on Midnight Breeze–version two,’ he tells me. ‘It takes all of my time, energy, as well as all of my focus. I'm also making my own metaverse, too. It’s the beginning of building an entire ecosystem around my art. It's more than just getting the tech to work, for instance. We're building our own smart contracts, our own engine, and our own marketplace. I want to cement the world of Tide Estates in the NFT space; this will help. I've been working in this space for, at least in terms of the space's maturity, a rather long time. My own metaverse: a huge task that's going to take a few years to build. It's expensive–and completely worth it, too. I am fully self-funded and do not take any capital from others so that I can be in control of decisions–my artwork, and otherwise. I don't want to lose my creative freedom as it's really important to me. In the world of NFTs, your collectors are also your investors. This allows me to explore many lines of thought that I would otherwise not be able to. Thankfully I have a really cool community that supports me and I've been really privileged in that sense.’